Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Affirmation and the Ark

Our Operation Christmas Child team is working on the Church Affirmation Campaign and today was our set deadline for calling all the churches who participated by contributing gift-filled shoeboxes in 2010. I still have to call all the churches in Warren County and it's been difficult because most of the phone numbers I have seem to be numbers for churches (rather than home numbers of those who headed the project at their church) and most of those churches are small and only have an answering machine instead of a human being to answer the phone.

I'm glad I wrote a note to every church in December so at least they heard from us already. I think I'm going to resort to leaving phone messages to get this project done.

I was reminded again at the Operation Christmas Child Connect Conference that my job as an Area Coordinator is to lead the team and not do the work of the team. I still have so much to learn when it comes to leadership, but I've been encouraged to get two new team members in the past few weeks and one application for another prospective member this week. God is answering prayer and building our team.

The bottom line for Operation Christmas Child, of course, is bringing the gospel to children around the world one shoebox at a time. I like to put a cuddly stuffed animal in every shoebox we pack and this year I'm praying to pack 15,000 of them.

So far this year our storage container (aka The Ark) has 1600 stuffed animals in in. That means I'm praying for another 13,400--give or take a few lions or tigers or bears (oh my).

Can you help bring joy to needy kids? If you have any stuffed animals to donate or can recruit some for us, please e-mail me at

And keep praying for the animals to come in--2 (thousand) by 2 (thousand)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Breaking Through

This picture was taken by my Regional Director, Leigh Fisher, when we went to the Dominican Republic on an Operation Christmas Child distribution trip. If you've been following my blog you might have sensed the undertones of discouragement I've struggled with in recent months. I just returned from the Operation Christmas Child Connect Conference for year-round volunteers and I wrote some thoughts on how God used it in my life. (in third person--just because I like it that way)

You’re discouraged.

As the Connect Conference approaches you think of the last two conferences you attended and the brokenness you felt as you confessed sin that needed to be confessed. You think of all your leadership failings that need to be corrected. But you also think of how nice it would be if you could just somehow hear God’s voice; if He would let you know He loves you.

Then your Regional Director finds someone who can be blessed by that registration you were going to cancel when the team member who was going with you couldn't attend and she suggests a carpool situation so you don’t have to drive all seven hours to the conference by yourself. You’re assigned a prayer partner who’s a dear friend and fellow AC who shares your struggles and you commit to pray for one another. Your Prayer Coordinator promises to cover you in prayer. Hope sprouts.

God blesses with good weather and safe travel for the drive to Philly and on the way you look ahead of you and see the sun shine down through the clouds just the way it did on your distribution trip to the DR. Hope grows.

From the time you come into the hotel lobby you begin to reconnect with friends. Every hug soothes the rubbed-raw spots in your heart. When you get to the Mid-Atlantic Welcome gathering, the sheer number of volunteers there brings amazing reassurance that there are other people who focus their lives on OCC. And the silliness of the event is strangely calming.

When the evening session begins you expect a challenge. You’ll undoubtedly be convicted of how far short you fall when it comes to all things OCC. What you don’t expect is Barlow Girl. You’ve heard their music on the radio and you can sing along but you wouldn’t normally be at a concert. When the music starts, though, you sense a presence. And when the band launches into “Never Alone” the words and music gel into a transcendent experience. You close your eyes and in the pulse of it you hear the heartbeat of the children—the heartbeat of God. And in the midst of that loud rhythm comes His whisper, “I love you.” It’s what you’ve been straining so long to hear. It’s the answer to your prayers.

The evening only gets better as one of the Barlow sisters shares an amazing story about vines that have water withheld from them so they will grow deep and last long. You think of the Mid-Atlantic regional theme of being rooted in Christ and how you’ve been meditating on that for so long in your dryness. And the whisper gets louder, “I love you.” Hope lives.

You attend training sessions over the next two days that deal with leadership, but unlike other similar sessions you’ve attended before these don’t depress you. Because of the hope, you are not overwhelmed.

You’ve packed boxes for special access countries in the last few years and the frequent letters you used to get from shoebox recipients have stopped. You’ve fielded questions from church members who want to know why you would send boxes to a country where the gospel cannot be openly shared. So on Friday night when A. shares his ministry in one of these countries, when his wife gives a clear picture of the lack of affection children in this country experience and what a simple shoebox can mean in their lives, you get a renewed sense of purpose. The buying and toting and storing and packing become holy work. Hope climbs.

You’re excited to see Mary Damron come to the stage on Saturday morning because you expect her to share from the Word. But instead of sharing from the Word she shares from her heart and in the process she shares God’s heart with you. With the conviction that comes from the Holy Spirit she proclaims God’s message to you. It is Mary’s voice that speaks but it is God’s voice you hear when she affirms, “This IS your calling. This IS your life.” Tears stream down your face but they are not tears of brokenness. You feel God’s touch. You feel God’s approval. Hope leaps.

Randy Riddle shares the national goals and vision for OCC and instead of being threatening it’s exciting. You see that area teams are important. You understand in a new way that the struggles you live with in trying so feebly to develop a team are worth it.

And then the session called “Go!” recasts the vision of OCC as a multiplication ministry. Thinking of ministering not just TO the children but THROUGH the children is astounding. A strong army of children are being raised up who will, in the power of the Holy Spirit, take back Satan’s territory, and the gates of hell will not prevail against them. Hope soars.

Commissioning services are always wonderful but to see the theme of the conference reiterated in such a cohesive way is powerful. Singing together Chris Tomlin’s “I Will Follow” and thinking of what the unleashed potential of the Holy Spirit alive in 300 volunteers could mean is breathtaking for you. Then you watch as the power of prayer spreads light into the darkened room. You pray for friend after friend and know that in just minutes you’ll be spread around the country to take that light with you. You feel the smile of God. You’re full. And you know that a tank is filled so that it can give power to move forward. And now you’re ready. Hope goes.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Praying Outside the Box

Last Saturday I was blessed to attend a Mini Worship Retreat organized by our Operation Christmas Child team Prayer Coordinator. Linda did such an amazing job of preparing for this special event. Shelly (on keyboard) and Levi (on guitar) provided Spirit-led musical worship and Zonya was there to minister with flags and interpretive dance.

Truthfully, I've never exactly been a fan of interpretive dance in the church but when this beautiful African-American woman in the flowing, beaded dress began to minister I was captivated by the way her combination of movement and sign language added another dimension to the worship time.

The highlight for me came when during the last song--which talked about going deeper with Christ--Zonya came into the pew right in front of me and was reaching out toward me with her arms. I struggle so much with comprehending God's love for me and as Zonya reached toward me I had an image of God reaching out to me as well. Often since that morning I've thought of this image and used it to help me picture God's love. It ministered to my soul in such a deep way.

After the worship time Linda presented a marvelous teaching about using the tabernacle as a model for prayer. Her visual reconstruction of the tabernacle and her folders filled with typed up notes from her teaching were such valuable resources. Zonya, Shelly and Levi stayed for the teaching and it was a joy to get to know them better.

Then we shared together a scrumptious meal Linda had prepared for us and she even gave each of us a gift to take home to remember the occasion.

I was sad that only three from our team were there (and that was including Linda) but Linda seemed to have peace with that and the time we spent in fellowship together was so rich.

As I thought of how wonderful the morning was and how few were able to come it made me think of how God must feel. He prepares for each of us every day this wonderful banquet of blessings but so few of us show up to fellowship with Him.

I don't want to miss those banquets with Him.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Destination Distributions

Look at the joy this simple gift-filled shoebox from Operation Christmas Child brings to this little boy in Honduras. Last week Operation Christmas Child volunteers spent about a week in Honduras delivering these precious boxes to their destinations--children who need to know Jesus' love.

One of the neat things those volunteers reported was that much of the ministry at those distributions was done by children. Little boys in white shirts with big Bibles--hardly tall enough to be seen over the pulpit--would bring a gospel message. At one church the children worked until 2:00 am the night before the distribution to get their program ready so they could make an impact for the gospel in their community.

I just finished reading the book "Crazy Love" by Frances Chan and he writes about being 'obsessed' with God. Am I obsessed enough? Am I really willing to do ANYTHING for God--including giving up time spent doing something I like? I'm doing a lot of self-examination about that and praying that God will continue to work in my heart "to will and to do His good pleasure"--to be obsessed for Him.

Last Friday we had a huge snowstorm here in Erie and in the middle of it the UPS truck came and delivered 48 cartons of paddleball games for this year's shoeboxes. Thankfully, my husband arrived home just before the truck did and we were able to help the UPS driver unload the cartons. The driver asked my husband if we worked for a charity and Jim explained Operation Christmas Child to him. Then the driver said, "I take back all the bad things I thought about you all day long while I moved those boxes around."

I also got 320 clothing items at Target after school yesterday--hats and gloves for 5-9 year olds--at less than 25 cents each. I love seeing God provide more and more items for each of our boxes.

And it's so amazing to realize that God has a plan for every item. Every paddleball game, every visor, every coloring book, every pair of gloves is going to be distributed into the hands of a child somewhere around the world.

God knows the destination for each box and God is preparing to distribute His blessing with each one.